School Focus: Fir Vale School
Fir Vale School has had its fair share of bad press in recent years.
It was thrust into the spotlight in 2018 after an altercation between students in the canteen escalated out of control and a whole school lock down ensued.
Since then, and under the leadership of new headteacher Rachel Smith, Fir Vale School has been on a journey of improvement in an effort to rebuild and restore its reputation for the sake of the pupils and the diverse community it serves.
‘Its a whole team effort’ according to Mrs Smith, who is a regular and well-known face in the community, especially before the first bell at 8:45am when she can be seen talking to pupils and encouraging them to get to school on time.
Her aim is to not only improve punctuality and attendance but also establish trusting relationships with families in the area, using this as a foundation to build on as children filter from primary through to secondary education.
She said: “Fir Vale, being honest, was bruised from the critical incident but staff here and the children and the parents are incredibly supportive and really want the school to get back on its feet and do well for the future.
“That’s the feeling of this school, everybody wants to work together to make it a better place to be and the best it can be for the children.
“I’ve been out every single day meeting and greeting the children and out into the community. Senior leaders and the pastoral team are out and about too.
“I go round to meet the local shopkeepers and I live, not in the immediate vicinity, but a couple of miles down the road so I do feel like I am part of this community and the school is part of this community.
“It is the fact that the children know were are out there and know that we care.
“When I started back in November, there were around 300 children that were consistently late now, there are around 30.”
Planners and uniform are also checked by year leaders as soon as the children get into the building, something implemented as part of a tightening of school rules alongside a stricter behaviour policy and smarter way of dress.
Mrs Smith added: “We deal with real people and real situations. Everybody that comes through the door has got their own home life. You don’t necessarily know what has happened at the weekend but our job is to make Fir Vale School an oasis of calm and a place where you are valued.
“No matter what your colour, origin or religion you can achieve here. I’m really keen that all of our children achieve their potential.”
Recognising that for some children an academic pathway isn’t necessarily the right way, Fir Vale School will be introducing more vocational courses for September, such as animal care, hair and beauty and employability skills,
However, Mrs Smith is clear that there is to remain an emphasis on high academic standards across the board with support in place to help children achieve their predicted grades.
For those in Year 11, she holds a Raising Attainment Panel (RAP) meeting each week in which the heads of maths, English and science along with the Senior Leadership Team, can discuss any appropriate action needed to help each student succeed.
Parents are consulted along the way, with intervention methods such as a phone call home put in place for those who may be falling behind.
There is also an open-door policy for parents in which they can visit Mrs Smith should they have any concerns or issues and a parent forum which meets monthly when they can.
Children are given the chance to experience a broad and balanced curriculum alongside lots of extra-curricular activities and clubs and class trips.
The school also frequently welcomes special visitors in hopes of raising aspirations and allowing the young people to explore new careers.
“We now have a strong leadership team but I think you have to work at an appropriate pace,” Mrs Smith added. “It has to be fast because parents have to be confident in the school and that it is going in the right direction. They need to be confident that their children will achieve here and that they will be safe and happy. It’s part of my job to make sure that happens and to communicate that to parents.
“It is important for me to say we’ve got a long way to go in all areas. Attendance we’ve improved, punctuality we’ve improved but there is still a way to go. I’m not going to be happy until everybody is here on time, and at every lesson on time and children are achieving the best they can.”